In the Spotlight at Plant Biology 2020: Navigating Science Policy

“Listen to the scientists” has been heard around the world in recent months. So yes, scientists should be heard; but by whom? How? And where? These questions provide the motivation behind the plenary symposium on science policy at the Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit. The conference, which was intended to take place at the heart of U.S. political action, Washington, D.C., has taken on a different form, but the need for this symposium is even more evident.

To bring these important issues to the widest possible audience, the plenary symposium on science policy will be presented online on July 20, from 10:00 AM–12:20 PM EDT. Registration is free; just click here to join this timely and important session.

What is science policy and science advocacy? These terms are difficult to boil down to a few words. In a very simplified view, science policy sets the guidelines that will direct government funding and shape the implementation of new initiatives, programs and regulations. The ruling by the EU commission to include genome-edited crops under the “genetically modified organism (GMO)” umbrella is an example of science policy. Other science policy examples from the U.S. include the recent establishment of ARPA-E and the decision to move the bulk of the USDA’s operations from the Nation’s capital to Kansas City, MO.

Science policy is therefore important for the public and the scientific community. Indeed, symposium chair Nathan Springer from the University of Minnesota and Chair of ASPB’s Science Policy Committee (SPC), notes that “there are many issues that impact the science we do, or the impact of our science, that are affected by policy decisions. It is important for our community to understand how the policy decisions are made and to be better advocates for science-based policy.”

Science advocacy serves as a complement to policymaking: it brings new scientific discoveries to the attention of the public (that includes politicians), why they matter, and how investing in their development will benefit domestic and international interests. The broader impact statement from your NSF grants, public engagement, science podcasts are all examples of science advocacy.

Nathan Springer writes: “The goal of the Symposium on Science Policy is to provide our community with an update on some of the current issues in science policy as well as a perspective on how to be an effective advocate for plant sciences.”

This symposium will feature four experts on science policy and advocacy:

April Burke is the founder of Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, a leading advocacy and consulting firm in Washington, D.C. representing universities, research organizations, and scientific societies. She writes that “research has been and will continue to be a fundamental piece of the US investment strategy—both for the good it can do, but also the global power it yields”. With that said, the research community should not be a passive participant in the science policy process. As scientists, we can present and explain the evidence behind sending “the message that it is a matter of when, not if, the next crisis surfaces”. She will present a talk entitled “The New World: Science Funding & Advocacy”.

Next, Rob Horsch, former Deputy Director for Agricultural Research and Development from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will advocate for innovation and equity in applied plant biology in his talk “Innovation and equity are key drivers of progress and are driven by good policy”. He writes that “by 2050, synthetic biology, using in silico analysis and modeling, coupled with very facile experimental biology, promises to greatly extend the range of our understanding and ability to make profound improvements in crop performance and resilience”. Three of the most critical and promising areas are photosynthesis, nitrogen use and pest control. Each can benefit from applying knowledge generated by synthetic biology approaches, but their implementation as viable commercial and agronomic solutions for the future may also run against policies set in place decades ago, when GMOs were just not a thing. Effective science advocacy and communication may help change the minds of regulatory bodies to allow the cultivation of GMOs “before more serious damage is done to human welfare by forgoing current and future solutions to current and future problems”.

Designing the crops of the future only makes sense if seeds can be adequately regulated and distributed, a topic that our third speaker, Jane DeMarchi, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs at the American Seed Trade Association, knows all too well. Says Nathan Springer: “Jane DeMarchi has led several science policy initiatives at the American Seed Trade Association.  She has been heavily involved in issues surrounding germplasm sharing and policies surrounding regulation of gene editing.”  She will speak on “Making the connection between innovation and advocacy” and share her thoughts about what it means to be an effective science advocate in the current climate.

Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer at Schmidt Futures, has served for two U.S. Presidents (Clinton and Obama) in White House policy-making roles related to science, technology and innovations as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Science and Technology at UC Berkeley; and as the Chair of the Global Health Working Group for the Clinton Global Initiative. In an interview with SPC Early Career Representative, Shandrea Stallworth, Kalil will address topics including the role of the “policy entrepreneur” in identifying, designing, launching, and expanding national science and technology initiatives; the origins of new ideas; tools that policy entrepreneurs use to promote changes; and the relevance of policy entrepreneurs to scientific societies such as ASPB.

Register here for the pre-conference plenary, Navigating Science Policy: Effective Advocacy for Science, on July 20th at 10:00 AM EDT. Registration is FREE and will be available until July 20th, at 9:00am EDT. Access information will be sent to the provided email address.  NOTE: If you have already registered for the Plant Biology Worldwide Summit you will receive complimentary access and do not need to register here as well.

Written by Patrice A. Salomé for Peridot Scientific Communications

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